The Place that G-d Chooses

Six stops on the way to Jerusalem.

Daniel Pinner,

Judaism Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner
INN:DP

Dedicated to the memory of my grandmother Frances Pinner (nee Tropp), who passed away 24 years ago on 20th Ellul 5751 (30th Aug 91).

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with the mitzvah of the First Fruits which have to be donated to the Kohen (Priest): “It will be, when you come to the Land which Hashem your G-d gives you as a heritage, and you will inherit it and dwell in it, then you will take from the first of every fruit of the ground that you will bring from your Land which Hashem your G-d gives you. You shall put it in a basket and you shall go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to make His Name dwell therein” (Deuteronomy 26:1-2).

This is the sixth and final time that the Torah refers to “the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to make His Name dwell therein”.

The first five were back in Parashat Re’eh:

“It shall be that the place which Hashem your G-d shall choose to make His Name dwell therein – to there shall you bring everything that I command you: your burnt-offerings and your festival-offerings, your tithes and your donations and the choicest of your vow-offerings which you vow to Hashem” (Deuteronomy 12:11).

“You shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, and the firstborn of your cattle and your flocks, before Hashem in the place that He will choose to make His Name dwell therein” (14:23).

“You shall slaughter the Pesach-sacrifice – the flock and the cattle – to Hashem your G-d, in the place that Hashem shall choose to make His Name dwell therein” (16:2).

“Only at the place that Hashem your G-d shall choose to make His Name dwell therein shall you slaughter the Pesach-sacrifice towards evening, as the sun is setting” (16:6).

“And you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d – you and your son and your daughter, and your servant and your maid-servant, and the Levite who is in your gate – in the place that Hashem your G-d shall choose to make His Name dwell therein” (16:11).

The sixth and final time that the Torah refers to “the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to make His Name dwell therein” is at the beginning of this week’s parashah, as we noted above.

It is obvious that “the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to make His Name dwell therein” is the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain and Israel, 1195-c.1270) comments: “‘You shall go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to make His Name dwell therein’ – the simple meaning is the admonition not to bring the First-Fruit offering in any city [other than Jerusalem] after the Holy Temple had been chosen. Just as He admonished against slaughtering [any sacrifices] outside [of the Holy Temple], He gave the same admonition regarding the First-Fruits” (Commentary to Deuteronomy 26:2).

Earlier, in the context of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Ramban commented: “He mentions here ‘the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to make His Name dwell therein’ just as He said ‘three times a year each your males shall appear before Hashem your G-d in the place that He will choose’ (Deuteronomy 16:16). I do not know if this is to say that after the Holy Temple will have been built we are not to assemble to offer the Festival sacrifices in any place other than that place which Hashem will have chosen, which is the implication of ‘you cannot sacrifice the Pesach-sacrifice in any of your gates’ (v. 5); or if this explains that they were not obligated to make the pilgrimage until G-d had chosen the place wherein He would dwell” (Commentary to Deuteronomy 16:11).

This is intriguing, because the Ramban implies hereby that the thrice-yearly pilgrimage became obligatory only after the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem. That is to say, for the 39 years that the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) functioned in the Sinai Desert, the 14 subsequent years that it functioned in Gilgal (seven years while the Children of Israel were conquering the Land of Israel, another seven years while they divided it among the Twelve Tribes), the 369 years that the stone Mishkan functioned in Shiloh, and the 57 years that it functioned in Nov (Nob) and Giv’on (Gibeon) – during that entire 479-year period, the thrice-yearly pilgrimage and the Festival sacrifices were voluntary.

This brings us back to the opening words of our parashah, “It will be, when you come to the Land which Hashem your G-d gives you as a heritage, and you will inherit it and dwell in it, then you will take from the first of every fruit of the ground... ”.

Rashi, following Kiddushin 37b, comments: “This tells you that they were not obligated to bring the First Fruits until they had conquered the Land and divided it between the Tribes”.

To summarize, then, the First-Fruits offering depends upon the Children of Israel being settled in the Land of Israel; and the Festival sacrifices depend upon the Holy Temple being built in Jerusalem.

However, the Ramban (commentary to Deuteronomy 26:2, cited above) continues by citing the Sifri (Ki Tavo 2), according to which “the phrase ‘you shall go to the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to make His Name dwell therein’ refers to Shiloh and the eternal site of the Holy Temple”.

The Ramban continues: “Perhaps [the Sifri] means that the bamot [‘high places’, meaning private altars] were forbidden in both these periods [both during the Mishkan in Shiloh and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem]. However, also during [the period that the Mishkan stood] in Nov and Giv’on [when bamot were permitted], the First-Fruits were offered, but could not be offered on a private altar, because the Torah says ‘...the Kohen...shall lay it down before the Altar of Hashem your G-d’ (Deuteronomy 26:4)” [implying only the Altar in the Holy Temple]. And maybe from the phrase ‘the choicest first-fruits of your ground you shall bring to the House of Hashem your G-d’ (Exodus 23:19) [we can deduce that] they did not bring [the First-Fruit offering] in a tent and a tabernacle, but rather only in Shiloh – where there was a House of stone – and in the permanent Holy Temple”.

All this leads us to a startling and supremely inspiring conclusion.

G-d gave us the Torah – and made its mitzvot contingent upon us! Our actions – our conquest of the Land of Israel, our dividing it up between the Tribes – perfected the world such that the mitzvah of the First-Fruits offering became operative. G-d Himself left the perfection of the world in our hands!

Similarly He left the mitzvah of the thrice-yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem incomplete; only when we, led by King Solomon, built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem did that become obligatory for every Jew.

Or, to express this from a slightly different perspective, only when we, the Children of Israel, took control of our Land and built the House of G-d in the place that He chose, did His world become perfected.

Indeed, G-d created His world – and left its completion to us. Thus by conquering our Land and taking possession of it, by building the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, we veritably become partners in G-d’s Creation.

We began by noting that the Torah refers to “the place that Hashem your G-d will choose to make His Name dwell therein” six times.

I suggest that maybe the Torah thereby subtly hints at the six places which G-d was to choose throughout our generations: the Mishkan in the Sinai Desert, Gilgal, Shiloh, Nov, Giv’on, and finally Jerusalem.





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